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All Our Pomp of Yesterday

In the Hands of Glory

By Phyllis Eisenstein 

5 Mar, 2024

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


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Phyllis Eisenstein’s 1981 In the Hands of Glory is a stand-alone military science fiction novel.

Lieutenant Dia Catlin and her fellow Patrol officer (and lover) Michael Drew are shot down by Amphoran rebels. Michael is killed instantly. Dia survives… which leaves the badly injured Patrol officer a prisoner of the enemy.

Eighty years ago, the Congress of Planets (metaphorically) threw up their hands in despair and dissolved the unworkably large Stellar Federation. This left the Federation Patrol out of a job. Rather than accept the inevitable, General Bohannon set out to ensure continued employment for the Patrol.

Step one: provide the agrarian planet Amphora with an unrequested surplus of externally mandated government, backed up by munitions Amphora could not match. Amphorans were then put to productive work, creating the infrastructure that Bohannon’s plans required. The eighty years since have seen incessant war between the Patrol and Amphoran rebels. Thus Dia’s current circumstances as a prisoner of the rebels.

Doctor Talley Magramor patched Dia up because he is humane. His fellow rebels tolerated this because Dia is a potential source of information about the Patrol. In the course of her imprisonment, Dia learns much about the rebels that she did not know, including the alarming fact that they appear to be allied with aliens.

Rescued by the Patrol, Dia is celebrated as a war hero. This brings her to the attention of Brigadier Velicher. Always on the lookout for pretty subordinates, Velicher proposes that recently bereaved Dia become his lover. Aware that the relationship will no doubt be short-lived — but still offer potential career benefits — Dia agrees.

The unintended consequence of the affair is that Dia learns much about the day-to-day operation of the Patrol to which she was previously oblivious. She realizes that the settlers are every bit as oppressed as the rebels claim. She also becomes aware of a closely guarded secret — the true purpose behind Amphora’s conquest.

The late Bohannon had plans far grander than taking over a single planet. Eighty years later, the Patrol’s true goal is almost within reach… unless Dia betrays her family and her fellow Patrol officers to save the former worlds of the Federation from their would-be conquerors.


My vast knowledge of SF cover art circa 1980 allowed me to immediately ID this cover as a Rowena. Everything about the cover screams Rowena, especially the large Rowena” signature.

While the alien is true to the novel, Rowena takes some liberties with Dia and her uniform.

I own all of Eisenstein’s novels and collections1, of which I have reviewed three. Since she only published six novels2 and one collection, I thought it would be interesting to finish my reviewing streak. Hence this review and more to come.

The Federation was way big and internal communication was very slow. It’s clear that Federation membership for peripheral worlds like Amphora was essentially meaningless. By the time the Patrol could respond to a crisis on Amphora, it would be over. Dissolution of the Federation seems to have been more recognition of reality than abdication of responsibility3.

Some readers may find unseemly the speed with which Dia moves on from Michael, whom she loved and whose death she mourns, to the Brigadier. In part, she’s swayed by relatives keen to make a useful alliance. In part, it is because one of the Patrol core values seems to be that attractive junior officers exist for the convenience of senior staff, just as Amphorans exist to serve the Patrol. Although the rank difference between Dia and Michael was smaller, the same dynamic seems to have been in play.

In case readers have not yet caught on, the Patrol are definitely the baddies here4.

In the Hands of Glory is probably Eisenstein’s least successful novel, which would explain why I have not reread it since 1981. Why not successful? The author relied too heavily on unlikely coincidences to move the plot along. Dia fortuitously learns about the Patrol’s plan; Dia eventually has a crisis of conscience just a few weeks before Bohannon’s eighty-year plan is due to come to fruition; the rebels’ own twenty-year plan comes to fruition at the same time.

Nevertheless, this Norton-esque novel has some virtues. It’s not black and white. Not every Patroller is terrible and not all of the rebels are angels5. Consequently Dia’s struggle to abandon old loyalties is engaging.

As is the case for so many Eisenstein books, In the Hands of Glory is out of print. I have no idea why her books haven’t benefited from ebook reprints. She died in 2020; I wonder who is serving as her executor.

1: I do not own either of her Spec-Lit anthologies… yet.

2: Unless one counts the unpublished The City in Stone, victim of the Meisha Merlin implosion. I wonder if a copy of the MS exists somewhere out there.

3: Who knows? Perhaps a smaller, more compact descendent of the Federation survives.

4: Another factor that may not have helped the Federation’s cohesion: the Patrol seems to regard all aliens as potential enemies. Was the Federation human-only?

5: It’s a pity we never get to see what happens after the events of the novel, which hand the rebels all the means necessary to attempt the Patrol’s plan to conquer the galaxy. Although the rebels seem to think an empire would be even more unworkable than the Federation….